I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power

Geez, I shouldn’t have put off seeing this movie so long considering it really is my beat. This is kind of a miracle actually. This is the rare DTV movie that could’ve passed for a low budget theatrical movie. The only thing really holding it back is being a prequel with a different star from the original, which is a real good reason not to release it in theaters. Going straight to video lowers the expectations and makes it only half count as a sequel or prequel, which gives it a better shot at working. And for me it did. Even if you don’t go for it I think you will be awed by its competence. This is definitely a landmark in DTV sequelization.

I love the original CARLITO’S WAY, but I haven’t seen it in years, so that probaly helps. I never knew this but DePalma’s movie was based on the second book in a series. The book was called After Hours, but they didn’t want it confused with the Scorsese movie of the same name so they called it CARLITO’S WAY, after the first book in the series. RISE TO POWER is actually adapted from the book Carlito’s Way, according to legend. (I haven’t read the books so who knows.)

Carlito's Way: Rise to PowerLike in DePalma’s movie, this one starts out with Carlito Brigante fresh out of prison, but he goes right back into crime, he doesn’t make any effort to stay out of it. The story is about the heroin trade in New York some time in the late ’60s or early ’70s or so. Control of the city is split between black gangs in Harlem, Puerto Rican gangs in spanish Harlem and Italians in some other part, I don’t know. The genius of Carlito’s operation is that he works a triumvirate with his two former cellmates, the Italian Rocco (Michael Kelly, DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) and Earl (Mario Van Peebles, everything). Each of them deals with the hotshots in one of the territories, so Carlito deals with the Puerto Ricans, Earl with the blacks and Rocco with the eye-talians. Strangely, you don’t see Carlito’s deals as much as you see the other two. Earl has to negotiate with the oppulent priss Hollywood Nicky (Sean Combs, “anything can happen”) who runs Harlem and Rocco has to deal with some standard mafia types, and both of them give alot more trouble than Carlito’s buddy Colorado (Casper Martinez, CARLITO’S ANGELS).

I should mention that poor Rocco doesn’t even get pictured on the cover. What the fuck. I understand you gotta put Puffy Diddy on there and you gotta put Luis Guzman, but this is one of the main characters, he goes on there too.

Anyway it’s kind of a SCARFACE type of story but with less struggle. Carlito is actually portrayed as a nice sensitive guy and alot of it is about him falling in love with a coat check girl. And of course he can’t die at the end so you don’t get the tragic going out with a bang ending that these type of stories usually have. But I thought it was a pretty good (mostly unoriginal) crime story and it kept me involved. And they do a good job getting a period feel on a low budget. I think the music goes a long way toward creating the atmosphere. The score itself (done by the same guy as the original, I think) is cheesy but they did a good job choosing songs by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Delfonics, the Dramatics and people like that. None of the same obvious songs you hear in every movie to tell you the time period. No Superfly in this one.

The weak link in this movie, unfortunately, is Jay Hernandez playing Carlito. I didn’t care so much for this chump in HOSTEL and taking on Carlito Brigante is a pretty big task. I understand it’s gonna be hard to replace Al Pacino no matter what your budget is. And for Jay Hernandez, Jay Hernandez does a damn good job. I was able to put up with him for most of the movie. I got past it. But you can definitely see him struggling. Maybe it was a deliberate choice to make Carlito not as confident when he’s younger, but it’s kind of a shame at times. The movie would be alot better if they could find a guy that had more of a presence, who takes charge of every scene without saying anything. I didn’t really buy that this particular guy could lead a criminal empire.

You also got Sean Puff Diddy Combs of MTV Movie Awards hosting fame as Hollywood Nicky. This is a perfect character for a jackass like that to play. The premise of the character is that he wears fancy white suits, drinks out of a gold tea set in his vintage Rolls Royce, and that kind of bullshit. So he is basically playing himself. His acting is not really terrible or good. He doesn’t really pull off the menace but he’s not laughable. He’s probaly better than you should expect from DTV, at least.

Luis Guzman is also in here, playing a different character than he played in the original CARLITO’S WAY. It’s hard for me to believe there could be two people in the world who look like Luis Guzman, but oh well. He’s got a couple funny lines here and it’s always good to see him in a movie, good or bad.

By far the best thing about this movie: Mario Van Peebles. I have given him alot of shit over the years for how many DTV movies he appears in, but I would like to take this opportunity to take it all back. He is fucking great in this movie, he elevates it with his performance. Remember how cool he was playing his pops in the otherwise overrated BADAASSSSS!? That’s what he’s doing here, wearing the badass ’70s collars and hats, smoking a cigar and scowling. I actually wish the movie was EARL’S WAY: WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT CARLITO. He oughta keep the beard, man. He looks fuckin tough. I almost could’ve forgot I was watching Mario Van Peebles and start thinking it was Fred the Hammer Williamson.

The camerawork and storytelling and whatnot is obviously not gonna be like DePalma, but I thought it was pretty good. Simple and unpretentious, no MTV shit. The director is called Michael Scott Bregman. He’s wet behind the ears as far as directing but he produced the original CARLITO’S WAY and two TV shows starring Luis Guzman. He was even an editing assistant on SCARFACE. Apparently he’s friends with Edwin Torres, the tough guy judge who wrote the books, so that probaly has something to do with how he ended up doing these movies. Anyway, he gets the Surprisingly Good For DTV award, at least.

I think this movie could be important in the evolution of DTV movies, not as much because its one of the best as because of the push they gave it. It had the most advertising I’ve seen for a DTV movie and I’m just guessing, but I bet it paid off. Of course, it’s a unique case because of the specific kind of following of the original. It’s one of those movies that every famous rapper has on DVD if you see them on Cribs. I’m sure they’re trying to figure out how to do prequels to SCARFACE and THE WARRIORS too but this one was easier to pull off.

So I kind of wondered if it was even fair to compare other DTV movies to something like this, but I checked IMDb and it looks like the budget isn’t huge or anything, it was $9 million. My long time favorite DTV sequel FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2 apparently cost $5 million. But that was shot in South Africa which I’m sure is alot cheaper than New York. RISE TO POWER is probaly above average budget for this kind of thing. HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2 apparently was $6 million, FRANKENFISH was $3 million. IMDb doesn’t have figures for the WILD THINGS or CRUEL INTENTIONS sequels, or for BOA VS. PYTHON. But the action pictures are alot higher. Wesley Snipes’s UNSTOPPABLE was $15 million, S. Seagal’s OUT FOR A KILL was $20 million.

RISE TO POWER proves that it is technically possible to treat a DTV movie more seriously and make something of a higher quality. You know, that perfect three little bears “just right” level of quality higher than something you would watch on TV but lower than something you would see in a theater. Theoretically. I guess the question for the ghouls with the money is whether it’s more profitable to make a little more expensive movie that some people watch and enjoy or a cheaper one that makes profit on a technicality because it’s stocked at Blockbustert. I guess we’ll see what happens.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, January 27th, 2006 at 3:19 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Drama, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power”

  1. Have to respectfully disagree on the watchability/quality of CARLITO’S WAY NEGATIVE-1: RISE TO POWER. It has its moments — the bits with Puff Daddy adapting his rich dickhead persona to 1959-ish New York and the tragi-comedic meta-wrongfulness of Luis Guzman (???) giving Carlito something like advice about whom he should trust — but I can’t say this was better than your average/good tv show.

    Now, I did rewatch De Palma’s CARLITO’S WAY and hoe-lee shit. What a film.

    What. A. Film.

    Motherfuckers are sleeping on this one. Yeah, it has a generally positive reputation, but man I’m ready to declare CW, like, BDP’s best joint, and thus I wouldn’t argue if someone said it was one of the top 20 films of all time. It’s understandable it was embraced & somewhat dismissed at the time as a genre piece, a continuation of BDP-Pacino’s itch to explore & expand the Scarface persona,
    (and also the basis of that fantastic “Okay, I’m reloaded!” Jay-Z album skit)
    but now, man, after a couple decades of hardened filmatistical studies & the expansion of auteurism as a crit-professional field, man, this movie has emerged through the crucible of time as a masterpiece.

    I’m not really a Pacino fan, but shit… I could go on forever about CARLITO’S WAY, and maybe I should, but I won’t, other than to say this is easily among the 3 best movies I’ve watched in the past 18 months. My mind is swelling with

  2. … bursting with wanting to tell people about how perfect every frame of CARLITO’S WAY is.
    Fuck, man, I’m in love.

  3. preach Mouth, preach. I was converted to CW a long time ago, but I love hearing the good news all over again.

  4. CW makes me angry, because it does to perfection *everything* I would ever want a movie to do, and it does it better than I’ll ever be capable of even imagining it myself. It’s an Escape to Paradise.

  5. I’ve never slept on CW. It was always in my top 5 Pacino performances and is my preferred movie out of the DePalma/Bergman/Pacino duology. Not that I dislike SCARFACE but I much prefer the ex-con trying to make right in a world he doesn’t know anymore to the hotheaded gangster. Similar to how I prefer DeNiro’s Sam Rothstein from CASINO to Jimmy Conway from GOODFELLAS. Just a much more interesting and less one dimensional character to invest in and much more human and relatable too.

  6. And how about Sean Penns character? A coked up weasel of a lawyer that later was to be imitated in GRAND THEFT AUTO:VICE CITY.

  7. One of my favourite set-pieces in this film with many great set-pieces, is after Carlito confronts Kleinfeld for the last time in the hospital, then exits to the train station to meet up with Gail, with the goons in pursuit. Man, what a shoot-out.

    DePalma must have a thing for train stations. Or maybe just for murder in public places – (see SCARFACE for the street slayings, assassinations, and the helicopter hanging).

    I’ll admit I found the ending pretty fucking sad. No man-tears, but it put me offside with Leguizamo, as Benny Blanco, the prick. For a long, long time.

    “You broke my heart Charlie”. Indeed.

  8. Everything about Carlito’s plans to go legit after prison have an undercurrent of tragedy. DePalma’s strong use of the colour red in the pool-hall drug deal scene tells me what he thinks about Carlito’s chances of Escaping To Paradise. He’s trapped in this infernal hell of criminals. (“just when I thought I was out, they…”…wait..nah).

    Actually, there’s a whole lot of primary colours going on here. The dark blue in the rainy streets at night outside the dance studio and the strip club where Gail works. The green, yellow and red at the night club. I don’t know what they mean, if anything, but they’re striking. It’s a great visual palette.

    Viggo got an early role in this as Lalin, (pronounced Laaaleeen, maaan). Not sure if his introduction was a deliberate joke, but Carlito’s voice-over tells us Lalin was an associate of his from his criminal past in the clubs, the flashback showing them walking around together, and he says Lalin was a “stand-up guy”, then it cuts to the present and Lalin’s in a wheelchair! Probably an indictment on a life of crime more than a joke.

    There’s obviously a big age difference between Pacino and Penelope Ann Miller, but I thought their relationship worked on an emotional level. It was easy to believe she was heart-broken by him going to jail and nervous about him re-entering her life. Ann Miller also has this look about her that reminds me of an old-style Hollywood actress like (take your pick..they all look the same to me). But she’s damn sexy to boot. I would never say(take your pick) was sexy. Then again(take your pick) never took their clothes off in the old Hollywood films.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>